Sen. Cruz Leads Bicameral, Bipartisan Coalition of Texas Lawmakers Urging Biden to Permit Key Cross-Border Bridges
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led a bicameral, bipartisan coalition of federal lawmakers representing Texas border communities in sending a letter to President Joe Biden expressing frustration “over the delayed issuance of presidential permits for key bridge projects between the United States and Mexico,” and urging the president to, “swiftly approve these four critical Texas-Mexico bridge projects that will create jobs, improve supply chain resiliency, and promote economic growth.” Joining Sen. Cruz in sending this letter are Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and U.S. Representatives Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and Monica De La Cruz (R-Texas).
As the lawmakers wrote:
“As members of Congress who represent Texas border communities, we write to express our frustration over the delayed issuance of presidential permits for key bridge projects between the United States and Mexico. Bureaucratic barriers are preventing Texas communities from receiving the presidential permits required to construct four crucial bridges in Brownsville, Laredo, and Eagle Pass (“Texas-Mexico bridge projects”). These bridges are vital for facilitating trade, travel, and tourism, improving supply chain resiliency, and promoting economic growth throughout the United States, especially in the Texas border region that includes some of our state’s lowest-income areas. The Senate and the House of Representatives have separately advanced bipartisan legislation that would remove these unnecessary barriers for applicants. Instead of waiting for Congress to resolve differences and enact final legislation, we urge you to use your existing authority to remove these barriers now and to swiftly approve these economically-critical cross-border bridge projects.
“As you may be aware, under Executive Order 13867, the State Department must provide a recommendation to you about whether granting a permit for a cross-border bridge is in the foreign policy interests of the United States. These Texas-Mexico bridge projects clearly meet that criteria because they will expand job-creating trade with Mexico, one of the United States’ most important trading partners, and foster stronger cross-cultural relations. Unfortunately, during the past two years, permits for the Texas-Mexico bridge projects have been needlessly delayed because the State Department, apparently at the direction of White House staff at the National Security Council and the Council on Environmental Quality, has told project sponsors they must first complete a lengthy and costly National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assessment before the State Department may make a recommendation to you.
“Requiring a completed environmental assessment is unnecessary for the State Department to make its recommendation to you and contradicts sensible past precedent. First, the sole question for the State Department to consider as part of the presidential permit process is whether a bridge is in the foreign policy interests of our country. This question is separate from whether the construction of a bridge complies with NEPA, which agencies other than the State Department will review. Further, these projects are nearby or adjacent to existing crossings, undermining the argument in favor of first conducting a laborious environmental review. Second, you have the authority as president to issue permits conditioned on bridge project sponsors completing NEPA assessments before they begin construction, which was the practice of the previous administration. That administration issued presidential permits for cross-border bridges in Pharr and Laredo, Texas before NEPA assessments were completed. Importantly, no environmental shortcuts are taken with this conditional approach as federal agencies with relevant jurisdiction will still review NEPA documents before a bridge project can commence.
“The administration’s current practice of withholding a State Department recommendation to you until a lengthy environmental assessment is completed makes project planning and financing difficult for these cross-border bridge projects. Unlike land crossings that may be owned or operated by the federal government, these bridges will be financed largely privately or locally. Bureaucratic delays create significant project uncertainty, hinder economic opportunities, and forestall a higher standard of living not only for our Texas border communities but for all Americans.
“We urge you to remove the unnecessary requirement that bridge project sponsors complete a NEPA assessment before the State Department will give you a recommendation. In addition, we ask that you swiftly approve these four critical Texas-Mexico bridge projects that will create jobs, improve supply chain resiliency, and promote economic growth. Following recent past precedent, your approvals could be conditioned on the project sponsors completing NEPA assessments prior to construction.
“We stand ready to work with you to make these projects a reality. In fact, we have already been working on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to advance legislation that would remove unnecessary barriers to applicants for bridge projects. The Senate National Defense Authorization Act bill includes language that would remove the requirement for applicants to complete a NEPA assessment before the State Department can make a recommendation to you. The House has included language in its fiscal year 2024 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill that would also remove the requirement for an applicant to complete NEPA prior to a determination on the applicant’s presidential permit. You can make these changes to the presidential permit process immediately, and we strongly encourage you to do so.
“We thank you for your attention to this matter and stand ready to work with you. Our state and our country will greatly benefit from having these cross-border bridge projects move forward expeditiously.”
In July 2023, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted Sen. Cruz’s amendment to streamline the presidential permitting process for building key bridges across the Rio Grande. The amendment, which was included in a bill to reauthorize State Department programs, was ultimately passed by the entire Senate as part of the annual defense policy bill, or National Defense Authorization Act, on July 27, 2023. Sen. Cruz has vowed to keep his amendment in the final defense bill that is signed into law.
Sen. Cruz’s amendment, which received bipartisan support, gives the State Department sixty days to make a recommendation to the president on whether to grant permits to international bridge projects in Texas. The president would then have sixty days to approve or deny the permit. The amendment adheres to the practice used by the prior administration where presidential permits could be issued contingent on successful completion of environmental reviews.
In June 2023, Sen. Cruz also led the entire south Texas congressional delegation, both Democrats and Republicans, in sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to resolve delays in providing permits for the international Texas bridge projects. Joining Sen. Cruz in sending the letter were Sen. Cornyn, and U.S. Representatives Henry Cuellar, Vicente Gonzalez , Monica De La Cruz, and Tony Gonzales (R-Texas). Read the full text of the letter here.
Sen. Cruz’s bipartisan effort to streamline the presidential permitting process for the Texas-Mexico bridge projects are supported by a diverse group of stakeholders, including:
- Texas Association of Business
- U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- Laredo Motor Carriers Association
- Border Trade Alliance